Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 14 of a new online serial novel, The Black Sheep, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
Aryeh’s car stopped near the house, and five sweaty, scraggly-looking children burst out of it. “It’s here! I remember it exactly here!” one of them cried, and dashed up the stairs.
“Oops!” A young man, who almost collided with the boy, stuck out his arm to block his path. “Is that how you run, without looking where you’re going or anything? We both almost went tumbling down the stairs! Where are you rushing to?”
“To our aunt!” the boy said.
“Aunt Sarah!” he said, his tone clearly implying what he thought of this creature who had not heard of his aunt.
“Oh.” The young man pressed himself again the railing, and the child didn’t wait another second. He knocked loudly at the door, and without waiting too long, just opened it. By then, the other four children had followed him up the stairs. Their father, still downstairs, shook Reb Elazar’s hand. Rabbi Reiness had just emerged from the carpentry shop, accompanied by three youths.
“Bli ayin hara, a real crew you’ve got here!” Aryeh said to his brother-in-law. The boys nodded politely and then somehow slipped away.
“Look who’s talking!” Elazar Reiness said, looking at the cheerful face that peeked out over the railing from the second floor. “Who is that—Baruch? Hey, kiddo! The railing isn’t very high! Be careful!”
“Yes, he’s not used to such heights,” Baruch’s father said as he and his brother-in-law headed for the stairs. “So what is this, Elazar? You opened an institution? You came all the way here for the carpentry shop? Nu, come on. You can’t tell me stories.”
“I’m not telling anyone any such stories!” Elazar chuckled and stopped midway up, patting his younger brother-in-law’s shoulder. “Certainly not to you, the vegetarian guy who migrated from civilized Tzefas to some hole-in-the-wall in the Galilee. ‘Middle of the Forest,’ Sarah calls it.”
“I’m not quite that vegetarian, for now,” Aryeh protested. “Bassi hasn’t had much success with me on that front, and she’s been trying for years. But what can I tell you? The children’s coughing has improved drastically since we left the rental in Tzefas.”
“Who are your neighbors?”
“Eleven families, some of them American. We’re all game to being the pioneering members of a new settlement. We’re actually quite close to Tzefas—about twenty minutes away—and it’s really not in the middle of the forest. Maybe ‘Edge of the Woods’ is more like it.”
“And you like it there.”
“You can say that, baruch Hashem. There are regular settling-in struggles, and I don’t see how we’re getting permits for the new place so fast, and the children’s transportation to school is not so simple…” He paused for a moment and then smiled. “But Hashem will help. You know, Bassi needs this type of place. It does her good.”
“And you don’t feel the need to be part of an organized community?”
“Us?” Aryeh looked amusedly at his brother-in-law. “What about you?”
“I’m an old man already,” Elazar Reiness said, brushing off the question. “It’s less important for Sarah and me. Our lives are built up and full enough that we can manage without the standard environment. But you are still young.”
“That’s why we send the kids to school in Tzefas, and that’s why we established this new settlement so close to there.” Aryeh found himself feeling defensive. His brother-in-law also noticed, and hurriedly changed the subject.
“I’m a terrible host, holding you up here in the middle of the stairs without inviting you inside. Come, come, Sarah is probably giving the kids all the nosh she found in the store.”
When he saw the alarm in his brother-in-law’s eyes, he added hastily, “I mean, nosh like dates and almonds and Craisins, of course. And the food Sarah made for your family has been ready since six in the morning. Next time we want to host you as well, not just send you ready-made food.”
“You’ll have to speak to Bassi about that,” Aryeh said. He followed his brother-in-law into the house. “She is enjoying our new and not-yet-legalized settlement so much that right now, she will find all the excuses in the world not to get away from it.”
Someone slipped out of the door, heading outside; he nodded curtly at the two men on his way.
“Have you met our guests yet, Osher?” Reb Elazar asked with a smile. “My nephews. And this is my brother-in-law, their father.”
“He should teach his kids some manners,” Osher blurted, and then dashed down the stairs.
“Hey!” Aryeh called after Osher, but he was already downstairs, and didn’t glance back even when called.
Rabbi Reiness and his guest walked into the house and crossed through the front part. The main door was open and inside, he could see Sarah bustling about, handing out food to the children. “No Bamba,” she said. “Your mother will be angry at me. Are almonds good? What about dates?”
“We’re allowed to have Bamba here, Aunt Sarah,” Aryeh said. “Their mother lets. But maybe they don’t deserve it for a different reason. What did you do to Osher, kids?”
“Osher?” asked Baruch, a serious-looking, bespectacled first-grader.
“You didn’t hear us talking to him? He’s the boy who was here before,” Gadi said. ‘The one who just went downstairs. And we did nothing to him, Abba.”
“Okay, so besides for nothing, what did you do? Or say?” their father asked. “Yisrael Meir?” His son was busy gazing out at the open sea.
“Yisrael Meir wasn’t with us, Abba,” Gadi said airily. “He ran up right away and kept saying, ‘What a view, what a view!’ and since then he’s been at the window.”
“So let’s go back to you, Gadi,” Aryeh said. “Nu, what was it?”
“It was the twins, Abba, not me! Actually, not both of them—just Daniel.”
“Sh…lashon hara!” Rabbi Reiness said, looking at the four-year-old pair sitting on kitchen chairs with remarkably innocent faces. They were busy licking the chocolate that was dripping from the cookies their aunt had given them.
“I just asked him what his name is,” Daniel said.
“And what did he say?” Reb Elazar wanted to know.
“He has such a funny name! There is no such name!”
“Of course there’s such a name,” Reb Elazar said. “Didn’t you ever learn the parshah about the shevatim? Reuven, Shimon…what was Gad’s brother’s name?” He winked at his nephew.
“Asher,” Daniel replied. He looked at his twin, Arik, who was very busy with his cookies.
“So we can say that ‘Osher’ is just another way of pronouncing ‘Asher.’ Just like some people might pronounce ‘Yisrael Meir’ as ‘Yisruel Myer.’”
The boy shrugged.
“You laughed at him, Gadi? Did you hurt his feelings?” his father asked.
“Of course not!” Gadi protested. “The twins just laughed a little bit, so they made me laugh also.”
Elazar Reiness went over to the open door of the house. Aryeh Berg turned to follow him. “Should they go downstairs and apologize?” he whispered.
“He’ll get over it,” the older man said, his expression serious. He gazed out somewhere in the yard for a few seconds, and then smiled and turned back to his concerned brother-in-law. “Hashem sent him this challenge, and he should be able to handle it. Even though he is quite sensitive.”
They went back into the kitchen. There was a stack of containers on the counter, and also some bags of nosh that Sarah had packed for Shulamis and Bracha, who had stayed home to help their mother. Meanwhile, Sarah invited Aryeh to sit down and eat something. She set down a plate full of food in front of him.
“I’m not sending any of this to Bassi,” Sarah said. “She’d faint to see bourekas and kugels and all kinds of other terrible things. You’ll have to eat it all here.”
“Thank you so much,” Aryeh said gratefully. “Boys, maybe you should go down to the yard to find Osher. Tell him that now you know that he has a holy name!”
“Fine,” the four boys said obediently. Only Yisrael Meir, who had finally moved away from the window and was now reading a book on Nechemiah’s bed in the other room, didn’t join them.
Reb Elazar took a plate of food for himself and sat down at the table. “You should come more often,” he said to Aryeh. “Two sisters, and they hardly get to see each other…”
“You can come to us, too, you know!”
“Maybe when you make a chanukas habayis.”
“We’ll do that, b’ezras Hashem, when we see that we’re staying permanently.”
“In the meantime, though, are you happy?”
“You could say so. One thing is for sure about our new location: life is much cheaper than in Tzefas, or in Acco, for that matter…”
“The price of apartments in Acco varies with the location,” Reb Elazar said. “You know how much people want to pay for this old house?”
“What’s so special about it?”
“Amazing view, no?” Elazar chuckled.
“And there aren’t other places that have such nice views?”
“Sure there are.”
“Why did I buy this house? And why am I refusing to sell it? Because I have an interest here,” he said simply. “And if you have any connection with Horowitz from Tzefas—he told me you know each other—I’d appreciate if you can tell him to please leave me alone, Aryeh. I’m not planning to sell this place in the next year or two.”
“And after that?”
“Maybe the views will be beautiful somewhere else…”
Yigal Erenbaum hung his hat on the nickel hook and turned to his wife. He nodded.
“She should go?” she gasped. “Rabbi Gutfreund said she should go to Acco?”
“Yes. He heard everything I told him about Osher and about Reiness. He still is of the opinion that we should not chase after Osher, but he agreed that the details we heard are sketchy and need a little more clarification. Fine, so Ariella will go and try to find out more about what’s going on.”
“He said she should go?”
“Yes. He’s aware of her situation, you know. He often asks me, when we speak, how she is doing and if there’s anything in the works shidduchim-wise for her. He claims that she might need to get away for a little while, have a change of scenery.”
“So she should go to Acco?”
“Why not? Let’s use the opportunity. And from what I heard her say on the subject, she seems very happy to go. We’ll find out about renting a room with a frum family in Acco. What’s the problem?”
“I…” She groped for some words. “I just finished talking to her friend Zahava. She wants to suggest a shidduch for her.”
“Fine. So let her suggest it.”
“Apparently Ariella doesn’t want to hear anything right now, so she called me to find out if it could go through us.”
Yigal sighed. “Why doesn’t Ariella want to listen?”
“I don’t know. These past few years, she hasn’t been very enthusiastic about getting remarried, but when she flew off three weeks ago for that shidduch in Belgium, I thought she’d come around. She seemed quite ready.”
“But it didn’t happen.” He sighed.
“No,” she agreed. “And we have no idea why.”
He was quiet for a long moment. “And what does that have to do with the trip to Acco?”
“I had hoped that maybe we could push her to explore this shidduch that Zahava suggested. I heard some wonderful things about this person…”
“How successful do you think we can be at pushing Ariella into something, if she insists on turning her head to the other side each time the topic is brought up?”
“Not too successful…” Irit was close to tears. “But that doesn’t mean we have to lose hope!”
“If you ask me, I think that the trip to Acco is a ray of hope. Some type of movement, a change, so that she’s not just sitting at home, depressed in her little place… She hasn’t been looking or sounding good these past few days…” Yigal fiddled with the window blinds. “Do you agree?”
“Okay, so let’s say she goes to Acco. How is she going to start looking for Osher there? How will she find out more about Reiness? Is she going to go knocking on people’s doors, or what?”
“You’re worried about Ariella? Queen of improvisations and creative solutions? You think she can’t figure out a simple way to find out where Osher is? She has an exact address and everything she needs!”
“It’s still complicated.”
“Not for her. Her brain is wired differently than ours. We’ve established that long ago. I think she was about seven at the time.”
“She was five,” Irit corrected her husband. “The kindergarten teacher called me to come and see how Ariella had made a huge orange out of an oak-tag and filled it with orange crepe paper. She didn’t have patience to sit and tear the paper and crunch it up like everyone else did. So what did she do? She spilled glue onto the orange, took the entire huge piece of crepe paper that she received, rolled it into a tube, and stuck it in the middle of the orange.”
“Then she made cuts with a scissor, and she got ribbons of crepe all around. I remember that orange. I think we still have it stored away someplace.”
“It was here until Ariella made Osher a jellyfish costume when he was six. The ‘orange’ was part of the hat, with the help of some white spray paint.” Irit smiled at the memory.
Yigal smiled, too. “The point is, I think we can trust Ariella with this. She’ll know what to do. She’ll get the job done.”